The Clippers, coming straight off a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, are now set for a third game in four nights on the second night of a road back to back, a schedule loss if ever there was one, especially considering their lengthy injury list. Fortunately, their opponent is the woeful New Orleans Pelicans. Keep reading for a full preview of the Clippers’ game against the Pelicans.
Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, Louisiana
When: 5:00 PM PT
How to Watch: Ball Sports SoCal
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Eric Bledsoe – Reggie Jackson – Paul George – Amir Coffey – Ivica Zubac
Pelicans: Devonte’ Graham – Nickeil Alexander-Walker – Brandon Ingram – Josh Hart – Jonas Valanciunas
Clippers: Kawhi Leonard Out (Knee), Marcus Morris Out (Knee), Jason Preston Out (Foot), Keon Johnson Out (Ankle), Serge Ibaka Out (G-League), Justise Winslow Questionable (Personal), Nic Batum Questionable (Achilles)
Pelicans: Zion Williamson Out (Foot)
The Big Picture
The Clippers sit at 9-6 as the 1/5 mark of the season approaches, which is certainly not a bad record considering the injury woes they’ve had to start the season. Unfortunately, the injury issues only seem to be getting worse, not better, and the short-handed Clippers were easily handled by the Grizzlies last night, 120-108. The Clippers fought hard, but their defense was just down too many guys, and their offense was too reliant on three-point shots. They’ve built a bit of a cushion to withstand more injuries, but their schedule is only getting more difficult from here, and they need to get healthy, quick, or they’ll slip in the standings. Overall, most individual players on the roster continue to play positively considering expectations, but it just won’t be enough with half the team out with injury.
The Pelicans are the second worst team in the NBA by record with advanced numbers that fit the outward appearance of awfulness. The only team clearly worse than the Pels are the Rockets. Unlike the Rockets, the Pelicans were trying to win games and make the playoffs this year. Unfortunately, a lingering injury to star Zion Williamson combined with other absences turned the Pelicans from a potentially dangerous young squad to a pumpkin. The Pelicans are bad at defense, they’re bad at offense, and with a 2-14 record and Zion still not back, their season is close to over. New coach Willie Green does seem to have the support of the locker room more than prior coach Stan Van Gundy, which is a positive, but there aren’t many others outside of the positive play of second-round rookie Herb Jones.
Pelicans’ Struggling Youngsters: The Pelicans’ biggest issue this season has been the absence of their best player, but their season has not been helped by most of their young players struggling immensely. Nickeil Alexander-Walker is shooting just 29.2% on threes while taking 7.5 per game, Jaxson Hayes has not made progress as a defender or shooter, first-round pick Trey Murphy is shooting an abominable 26% on two pointers, and Kira Lewis has maybe been the worst rotation player in the NBA this season. While the Pelicans did get two useful veterans in Jonas Valanciunas and Devonte’ Graham who have both been very good, their ability to be a playoff team this year rested on their young guys being ready. So far, that has not happened.
The Importance of Nic Batum: The Clippers had their worst defensive performance of the season last night against the Grizzlies, and while there were a multitude of reasons for that, perhaps chief among them is that it’s the first time the Clippers have been wholly without Nic Batum this season. Batum is a phenomenal three-point shooter and connector on offense, but it’s his defense that makes him ultra valuable to the Clippers. His ability to switch out onto the perimeter and guard wings and then turn into a rim protector and big man defender is incredibly unique, and enables many of the Clippers’ small-ball units to work. Without him, the Clippers were light on just about everything on defense – rebounding, perimeter stoppage, and rim protection. With no Kawhi Leonard or Marcus Morris, Batum is critical as the Clippers’ other big forward, and his absence leaves them undersized and lightweight. Hopefully he’s back in this one.
Boston Brew Crew Takes a Step Back: After the Clippers got great minutes from Amir Coffey and Brandon Boston Jr. in their win over the Spurs on Tuesday, the two young wings were decidedly less effective against the Grizzlies. The duo combined to shoot 4-17 from the field and 2-8 from three, while chipping in a mere 5 rebounds and 2 assists in 49 total minutes. Coffey is a good third stringer being asked to start and Boston is a very young late second-round pick, and both are being asked to take on roles way above their pay grade, but it was still tough to watch them get swatted around the rim and brick open jumpers. Coffey and Boston did show some tenacity on defense, at least, but with how shorthanded the Clippers are right now, they’ll need more from these two on offense.
That about does it for this preview of the Clippers’ Friday night game against the Pelicans. Comment on the game below!